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Alabama father-son journalists win Pulitzer for reporting that changed laws


There's a joke that journalist John Archibald tells about reporting in his home state of Alabama.

JOHN ARCHIBALD: It's a great place to do news. You can throw a rock and hit a scandal at any given moment in time.

PFEIFFER: John and his son, Ramsey Archibald, threw one of those rocks. They ended up uncovering a scandal at a local police department outside Birmingham. Their reporting for the website al.com resulted in the resignation of the police chief, four new laws, a state audit and a Pulitzer Prize awarded yesterday for that father-son team, along with their colleagues Ashley Remkus and Challen Stephens. John and Ramsey Archibald are with me now. Congratulations to both of you. All of us in journalism are so happy for what you accomplished.

J ARCHIBALD: Thank you very much.


PFEIFFER: John, you, the father, have the rare fortune of having won a Pulitzer before, but now the two of you are winning one together. What does it feel like to be a father-son winning this together?

J ARCHIBALD: It's the most amazing thing I've ever felt. But, you know, sitting here today and to do that with my kid is the greatest thing I've ever done in my career.

PFEIFFER: And, Ramsey, for you?

R ARCHIBALD: It's really difficult to put into words, honestly, but it's really just a pleasure and an honor to work with this team. And to do it with my dad is unbelievable. But to do it with the journalist that my dad is - you know, take our relationship out of it - I'm pretty lucky to do that also.

PFEIFFER: Your reporting was not just one story but multiple stories over the course of last year. For our listeners who haven't read your reporting, could you give a brief summary of what you found?

J ARCHIBALD: There are moments in a reporter's life when, you know, the hair on the back of your neck stands up because you know you found something, and this was a series of those. This is a town of 1,253 people that had a one-man police department and very little crime reported to the state. Yet it was using fines and fees to fund half of its revenue. You could get pulled over for anything in Brookside. Some of the common things were following too closely or not - or having a paper tag from a car you just bought. And people would get stopped or something like that and end up with seven or eight or nine or 10 charges against them, misdemeanors that would cost them thousands and thousands of dollars.

PFEIFFER: John, I understand you had some concerns, some reservations about your son entering a profession that has been so rewarding to you. Why was that?

J ARCHIBALD: I worry because it's a very difficult business to get into for any young person these days because jobs are often perilous. And so I worry about that. But at the same time, I'm out giving speeches to people saying, you know, we desperately need young, smart, creative, thoughtful, honest young people to carry us through journalism until we figure this stuff out. So how in the world could I not want somebody I know who has all of those things to go in the business?

PFEIFFER: And, Ramsey, you went into the business even though the industry is in rough condition right now. And you went to work alongside your dad, which can have ups and downs. How has that been?

R ARCHIBALD: Yeah. The vast majority of the time, it is amazing. And, you know, I'm saying that now after teaming up to win a Pulitzer, so maybe I have some rose-colored glasses on. But even before now winning his second, even before winning his first Pulitzer Prize, you know, he was the golden standard of journalism in Alabama. And growing up with that and then deciding to sort of follow in his footsteps, that wasn't necessarily an easy decision, but I'm very fortunate to have been able to do it and to work together with him. It's been amazing.

J ARCHIBALD: I'm sorry. I'm just saying you should hear the names he calls me on the basketball court.

PFEIFFER: (Laughter).

R ARCHIBALD: That's a separate matter.

PFEIFFER: In journalism today, sometimes you can put a lot of hard work into a story and then feel like it didn't make a difference. And that's really disappointing. But you really made a difference with this story. Can you talk about some of the ways you improve people's lives?

J ARCHIBALD: Yeah. I mean, I've done a lot of stuff over the years that cost people jobs, that cost politicians their careers or that, you know, sent people to jail. And that's one kind of feeling. And it's really important in journalism. But in this situation, I mean, there were people over and over coming to me and saying, you know, I got my life back. And in 37 years of doing this job, I've never experienced anything like that. And it gives me a whole new perspective on why we do this job.

R ARCHIBALD: I mean, that's the reason you get into this field. And it's so great to be - you know, to get this kind of recognition and for people to pay attention beyond Alabama. But it would have been worth it without any of this just to have those people, like you said, come say, you know, I got my life back from this. I think that's all you can ask for.

PFEIFFER: That was al.com columnist John Archibald and data reporter Ramsey Archibald, his son. They're part of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team that uncovered a series of stories about aggressive policing in the town of Brookside, Ala. Thank you to both of you, and congratulations.

R ARCHIBALD: Thank you.

J ARCHIBALD: Thank you.


JUICE WRLD: (Vocalizing). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jonaki Mehta is a producer for All Things Considered. Before ATC, she worked at Neon Hum Media where she produced a documentary series and talk show. Prior to that, Mehta was a producer at Member station KPCC and director/associate producer at Marketplace Morning Report, where she helped shape the morning's business news.
Christopher Intagliata is an editor at All Things Considered, where he writes news and edits interviews with politicians, musicians, restaurant owners, scientists and many of the other voices heard on the air.
Sacha Pfeiffer is a correspondent for NPR's Investigations team and an occasional guest host for some of NPR's national shows.